The group is hoping that we can surface more immigration stories from SCJs and their ministries, like the one shared with us by Tim Gray, SCJ, at supper our first day, whose decision to get involved with immigrants in Chicago led him to meet Cecilia and many others, and that these stories will call our communities to "see, judge and act" on this reality as disciples of Christ and followers of Fr. Dehon. As we make our judgments, it is also necessary to see that all these personal stories take place in a political context. I recently read two stories that opened my eyes to the role of the for-profit prison industry and our elected officials, which is a huge, but often hidden, part of that context.
“Operation Streamline,” a U.S. Border Patrol Operation that began in 2005 under President G. W. Bush, made jail time mandatory for people convicted of illegal entry or re-entry into the US. The plan was designed to get tough on illegal immigration by arresting and prosecuting those crossing the border, instead of simply deporting them or placing them in a civil detention center. According to a report released last year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 80% of immigration defendants convicted in federal court since 2010 received a prison sentence. This has had a dramatic effect on the makeup of the criminal justice system. (Read the whole story here.)
The war on immigrants is replacing the previous war on drugs that filled
the jails and made obscene profits for private prisons.
One investigation found that without a single vote in Congress, officials across three administrations created a new classification of federal prisons only for immigrants, decided that private companies would run the facilities, and filled them by changing immigration enforcement practices. "You build a prison, and then you've got to find someone to put in them,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, who has seen five of the 13 Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons built in his state. “So they widen the net and find additional undocumented folks to fill them up." The outlook is bleak not only for undocumented immigrants, but for taxpayers as well. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of proposed Senate immigration legislation estimated that increased funding for enforcement and prosecution of undocumented immigrants in the bill would result in an additional 14,000 inmates per year in the federal prison system, at a cost of $1.6 billion over the next decade.
Most of the roughly 23,000 immigrants held each night in CAR prisons have committed immigration infractions -- crimes that a decade ago would have resulted in little more than a bus trip back home. The low-security facilities are often squalid and rife with abuse, according to advocates. Built in remote towns across the country, these prisons hold nearly twice the number of inmates in solitary confinement as other federal facilities, an American Civil Liberties Union report found. Inmates are allegedly placed in solitary confinement for complaining about food, medical care or filing grievances.
Besides sorrow and anger, all of us in Chicago also talked about our feeling of powerlessness.
And yet there is power in listening to people's stories, coming to understand the policies that create injustice, and talking about what we can do in our own spheres of influence. I hope that this coming year sees all of us take hold of our power to SEE, JUDGE AND ACT, and to join with the many thousands of other Catholics, Christians and others of good will fighting to change this unjust system.